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To the Friend Who's Flaky Because of Their Mental Health

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Many years ago, an older, wiser friend of mine said something that nested deep inside me. He said, “Friends never have to say they’re sorry.” It was a kindness to alleviate my guilt (I don’t even remember over what); I pondered it long after it did its job. The statement made profound sense to me and became a cornerstone in my definition of friendship.

Friends never have to say they’re sorry.

Because friendships aren’t only based on your actions, your words, a moment in time or even a stretch of time. Because true friendship lives in a space where apologies don’t apply. It’s about how we feel about each other.

So I don’t ever need anything from you other than for you to simply exist and be you. That’s how you’ve always held up your end, so to speak, of the relationship. I love you for you. Always have, always will.

If you need space, that’s fine. You’re still you, and we’re still us. If you’ve got to cancel our plans last minute, that’s fine, too. You’re still you, and we’re still us. If even texting back is impossible for some reason, that’s OK. Just keep being you.

You don’t have to apologize. You don’t even have to explain. I don’t need to understand the reasoning behind your so-called “flaking.” I just need to know that our friendship is still solid, and I do.

The thing is, though, I actually do understand.

With my chronic conditions that affect my physical and mental health, and recently living through some crushing loss and grief — and significant life change — caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve done my own share of flaking and my eyes are wide open to all the whys there are out there for all the shutting down, stepping away, hiding, whatever you call it and however you do it.

Life can be too much sometimes. People can be exhausting. Taking a shower and putting on pants can be impossible. Any interaction might have you say out loud how truly terrible you’re feeling, and you don’t care to hear yourself say it right now. Meanwhile, you’re entirely out of energy to pretend anymore. Maybe you just need wide open space to let your pain and grief run free and you prefer not to have anyone in it right now.

Or maybe everything is just fine. You’ve found joy and contentment. And right now that joy comes from solitude and you’d like to hold on to it.

I’ve been all these places, and none of them are flawed, immoral, hateful or hurtful. They’re not your fault and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. They’re not even selfish. Acknowledging and minding one’s own health, however that may look, is never selfish. It’s how we can be our true, whole selves whom our friends love.

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So flake all you want, you beautiful, complex, emotional soul. However if you do prefer to feel a little less flakey (for your own peace of mind, not for mine)…

I have some ideas that might help.

1. Come up with a code or system you can use to let me know how you’re feeling or that you need space. I use my Splat system because with one word I can be clear as to where I’m at; no messy details.

2. When you do make plans, come up with A, B and C plans, with varying degrees of commitment and intensity, so that when the date comes around you can do whatever is comfortable on that day. Again, my Splat system is useful for this and I’ve got a cool tool for it in this article.

3. Try to be spontaneous. Keep your friends on the forefront of your mind and look for moments when you do feel up to interaction and reach out and see if they want to chat or hang. They may be unavailable, but they’ll feel you trying.

4. Consider ways of interacting that you normally don’t do. Initiating something new may be tough at first, but you might discover something fun and less socially draining. Try a phone call. Write an email. Mail a silly card or a surprise trinket. Play a game together on an app. Binge watch the same show in your own spaces and text about it.

I just want to ask you one favor.

As you are my friend, please be your own friend. Love you for you. And live the kind of friendship with yourself where you never owe yourself an apology, as long as you are being your authentic self.

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Originally published: January 12, 2021
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